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a pirate's desk with a ruffled eagle and a ship's logbook

So, this new theme of mine is going to focus on writing advice, but I can almost guarantee that the things I will discuss here won’t just apply to authors. Or even just to writing. But before we get too deep into the realm of unsolicited advice, I’d like to start by talking about why you should – or shouldn’t – listen to me.

See, I have been a coach for a very long time and one thing I believe to be true is that for a coach – or any kind of expert, advisor, teacher, or besserwisser – to be of any real use to you, they have to be the kind of person you can vibe with. Not necessarily in the sense that you’d like to go curtain shopping and bar hopping together, but they should at the very least make you feel good about yourself and your situation. And if your situation happens to be shitty, they should make you feel like they are the kind of person who could get you out of it.

The reason I wanted to start here is that I am sick and tired of seeing all the scallywags on social media who are quick to tell you you’re doing it wrong and eager to milk you of your hard-earned doubloons for their expert advice and exclusive courses. But fret not, I am fully booked and not interested in selling you anything other than my words (and most of them are free), so here are five tips on how to navigate the treacherous waters of self-appointed online gurus.

Rule #1: Beware the Naysayers

Always keep a weather eye out for those who start their pitch by undermining your confidence. Don’t do this! Never do that! Five things you must do to get… This negativity is nothing but a ploy designed to make you more pliable and receptive to whatever they’re peddling. Usually their own expensive and often useless services.

My advice: Do not pay some random bugger to make you feel bad about yourself and doubt your skills and abilities. This world is full of people who are quite happy to rain on your parade for free, so this is not a service you need a premium subscription for. In my experience, the best editors, coaches, tutors etc. will approach you with constructive advice. They may not get the same traction in the algorithms as the neggos and bullies, but their content tends to be positive and uplifting.

Rule #2: Compatibility May Trump Credentials

No, I’m not saying @randomdudedotcom on TikTok is better than Professor Oxford, but I am suggesting that there are times when all the credentials in the world can’t make a person get through to you. The funny letters some of us can put after our names may look shiny, but at the end of the day, that is all they are. Shiny letter combinations.

My advice: Of course, it’s important for your editor, coach or expert person to be experienced and skilled, but it’s equally important that they align with your unique voice and vision. An editor who specialises in academic journals may not be the best fit for my sweet and spicy spoonie stories. A devout Christian may be the worst possible match for my tales rooted in Norse myth and Scandi folklore. Don’t be afraid to pick your expert the way you pick your peaches or avocados in the shop. Get a feel for them, ask for samples (if you have the skills to know whether they are good or not), and conduct interviews. This is a person who is going to see you emotionally naked. Make sure you can laugh together and trust your gut. (And if your gut is a traitor – phone a friend and ask them to help you.)

Rule #3: The Right Tools for the Right Job

You’re not bringing a cutlass to the table when we’re mending the sails, and you’re not hiring a proofreader when we need a developmental editor. This should go without saying, but unscrupulous people will sell you all sorts of rubbish if they get a chance. And when you feel like a failure it can be tempting to pay for that promised golden ticket.

My advice: You need to know what you need. It makes no difference if we’re talking about a line editor, a writing coach or a car mechanic. The wrong tool for the job is a waste of time and resources, and it can seriously drain your mental reserves too. But how do you know what you need? And what’s to say your bestie can’t do it all for a bottle of plonk?

Well, in my humble experience mothers and besties and people who love you unconditionally are about as reliable as a lactose-intolerant gut screaming for ice cream. Join a group of mutuals and get yourself an accountability partner or two. (Don’t know where to start? Come check in to Hotel de Ville and we’ll sort you out. For free.) And listen to the experts you do have around you. The ones you have chosen, that is.

Rule #4: Get a Crew, Not Some Mercenaries

An editor or coach should be more than just a temporary hire; they should be an ally, a part of your extended crew. They should be as invested in the success of your work as you are, willing to go to battle alongside you to make your stories the best they can be.

My advice: Remember that it takes two to tango. Your expert person is not an opponent. They are not out to get you (unless you made a very poor choice in which case you should go straight to #5). As in any other relationship between two people, half the responsibility rests on your shoulders. If you have found the right person for you, be prepared to bring your a-game to the table and give as much as you take. This person is your treasure chest, and the more you dig and put into the relationship the more they are likely to give back. It will be hard at times. It will suck and feel like an endless swim upstream. That is normally where the biggest learning curves are, so pay attention and don’t lose sight of the goalposts.

Rule #5: Don’t Be Afraid to Jump Ship

No matter how much you’ve invested, never hesitate to cut ties if things aren’t working out. Your peace of mind and the integrity of your work are too precious to be sacrificed for the sake of a bad fit. Or because you feel indebted to the person who’s been helping you.

My advice: Remember that jumping ship does not have to be a failure. Not every severed tie has to be the result of trauma and conflict. Sometimes we grow apart. Sometimes our needs change. If you sign up for a beginner’s class in Spanish, no one expects you to stay in that class when you have finished the course. You can level up and take elementary-level classes until you have mastered those too. It’s the same when you’re dealing with experts.

Over time you may learn to do some of the work yourself. You may grow into your wings and learn to fly solo on some stretches. Or you may realise that you want more resistance, and more drilling than your current crew can provide. Regardless of the reason, never feel bad about chartering a new course. Just don’t be a dick about it – tell the people concerned that the time has come for you to move on and thank them for helping you reach this point in your journey. Then go ahead and do whatever it is you need to do next.

About Evalena

Evalena Styf is a knowsy Swedish roll model and prolific content creator who lives in a queen-sized bed on the outskirts of London, UK, with a doggo, two cats and a personal assistant.

In 2017, after 25+ years of anonymous blogging on a number of free platforms, she decided to step out of the shadows and go pro. Evalena built an imaginary pirate ship to have a virtual home and a private platform for her content. She named it after one of her most prominent character traits – Resilience.

Evalena primarily writes non-fiction. Her main areas of interest are writing, personal development, cliff-jumping, and how to level up and keep going when everything around you seems to be falling apart.


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